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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Review: Tennis comes second in the inspirational movie “King Richard”

Lindsay Bar | Associated Press

“King Richard” is exactly what you think, and it’s not bad.

This is the story of the father of tennis greats Venus Williams and Serena Williams, when they were just a few (extremely) talented kids from Compton who tried to break into the elite sport with a little bit of heart and perseverance. Will Smith is filming and producing. The Williams family was involved. Beyoncé wrote the original song. Oscar bait is written everywhere.

But the difference between this and your usual “bait”, a term too cynical to be carried away by something so sincere, is that “King Richard” is good. It’s touching and inspiring, even if not really inspiring. And, perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t do too much glossy revisionism in the name of his complex and erroneous central subject matter. It just lets the controversy live, and Smith’s film and acting gets richer for that.

This is the story of Richard Williams (Smith), a father who, along with his wife Brandi (Onjanue Ellis), has big plans for his children. This trick can immediately rub a little in the wrong direction. Why father and not tennis superstars? Well, this is an interesting part of the two best stories of American sports.

It seems like Richard had a lot of ideas that didn’t work – he was a consummate salesman who always had some kind of business idea. Failure doesn’t seem to matter because one idea really worked, and that was to get his daughters involved in tennis. The sometimes humiliating ruthlessness, despite so many rejections and obstacles, is easier to watch because we know the end result.

The film combines sports and the history of this family well. Richard introduced running exercises with the girls Venus (Sania Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) on their abandoned courts in South and Central Los Angeles. But Richard isn’t just focused on athletic greatness, he wants his girls to be versatile people. Humility and education are equally important. And the girls, for the most part, don’t seem to mind being strict, as they also believe in purpose, though the tension eventually boils away.

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Smith is as good as ever like this man who has been clearly beaten, literally and figuratively, in life, but he’s not going to let that stop him from helping his girls achieve perfection. He lets his movie star fade a little and disappears into Richard, the guy we really believe will be fired so easily by so many.

Both girls, by the way, are amazing, although Sydney in the role of Venus gets more time to prove herself, simply by the nature of the plot. She has gorgeous coaches, first in Los Angeles, played by Tony Goldwyn, and then Rick McCee (John Bernthal), who will take her to the pros. The sisters have a great relationship and clearly adore their father, even when frustrated by his self-promotion antics and his sometimes mystical attempts to protect them.

The main problem with the long running times of King Richard is that by the first hour you can get out of your skin, wanting to get up and do something … anything. And you won’t get that kind of motivation in any sports biopic.

Hopefully there are still many more stories to be told about the Williams sisters phenomenon. But King Richard is a very good start.


King Richard

3 stars out of 4

Rating: PG-13 (brief drug mentions, sexual references, some violence and profanity)

Duration: 148 minutes

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